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Once prayer becomes a regular practice in our lives, a further exploration of its purpose can lead to this question – Does it only benefit ourselves, or is there an added dimension? Prayer and meditation provide an opportunity for us to bring our souls before God and commune with Him. This, in turn, means we develop ourselves spiritually and acquire virtues. Abdu’l-Baha was asked, ”What is the purpose of our lives?” He answered:
To acquire virtues. We come from the earth; why were we transferred from the mineral to the vegetable kingdom—from the plant to the animal kingdom? So that we may attain perfection in each of these kingdoms, that we may possess the best qualities of the mineral, that we may acquire the power of growing as in the plant, that we may be adorned with the instincts of the animal and possess the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, until from the animal kingdom we step into the world of humanity and are gifted with reason, the power of invention, and the forces of the spirit. –Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176.
In our lifetime process of acquiring virtues, which serves as our foundation, do we stand back in all our goodness to view the suffering and plight of others, or do we actively “step into the world of humanity”? If we keep the product of our spiritual journey only to ourselves, we are as barren as a tree that produces no fruit. The Baha’i Faith doesn’t allow a monastic life – instead, the Baha’i teachings say that we should spend whatever attributes and strengths we acquire on the spiritual transformation and material improvement of the entire human race.
So, the necessary added dimension to our prayers? Service.
Devotion to God implies a life of service to our fellow-creatures. We can be of service to God in no other way. If we turn our backs on our fellowmen, we are turning our backs upon God. Christ said, ‘Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.’ So, Baha’u’llah says: – ‘O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.’ ” – Baha’u’llah, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 78-79.
As Baha’is understand it, God did not create human beings to passively receive guidance and blessings. If love, justice, kindness and truthfulness exist in the world of humanity, they must spring from the virtues we have acquired and inform our interactions with others. This even applies to our work lives:
In the Baha’i Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 176-177.
This process generates spiritual perpetual motion. We pray to make ourselves worthy of the title “human”, and to then manifest the attributes of God. Through the vehicle of self, we serve and our service then becomes worship – an actualized prayer.
How we live our lives, not only on the days we attend our respective worship services, makes a difference and reflects our understanding of our true natures. It is not only possible to say our prayers — but to live our prayers in the material world at the same time.